Alaska is an enormous and diverse state with a wide range of weather, landscapes and activities. This can make packing a challenge! I lived in Alaska for seven years and I spend several weeks in Alaska every year. I have learned everything there is to know about what to pack.
There are four things that you absolutely need and everything else you can wing it, improvise or buy. Those four things are:
A rain jacket – this is absolutely critical everywhere across Alaska in summer. Make sure it has a hood. Make it the warmest possible puffy jacket instead if you’re visiting in winter.
Your prescription medications
Your ID (a passport is needed for cruises) and a credit card
A back up battery for your phone
For those who want more detail, I’ll talk about what I pack for summer and winter as well as what to pack for an Alaska cruise. I even have a few videos of me packing if you really want to get into the details.
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What to pack for Alaska in Summer
These are the items that I always travel with to Alaska in the summer. By the way, all of this fits in a carry on bag.
Personal Items and Entertainment
Toiletriesand medications (I keep it simple and I encourage you to as well)
Analog entertainment: you’ll be in places without access to the internet or a cell phone signal. You also might spend a lot of hours on airplanes, ferries or trains so having reading material, art supplies or a deck of cards is a great idea. I am a big fan of the Kindle paperwhite, because you can bring endless reading material in something lightweight and durable and the battery lasts a long time in airplane mode.
Waterbottleand Travel mug
Back up phone battery: In remote areas without service phone batteries die fast, especially when you’re taking lots of photos and videos. I have this one which adds three extra charges to my phone which is pretty amazing. I also carry this phone tripod and waterproof pouch for my phone.
An eye mask can be really helpful for sleeping during daylight that lasts 24 hours a day!
Durable snacks: It’s always nice to have a snack with you, especially in more remote areas
Sunglasses and sunscreen – when the sun comes out in Alaska, it’s intense
Bug spray and a headnet: Pretty much all of Alaska has intense bugs in the summer. This is a pretty easy thing to pick up once you get there, so don’t stress about packing it if you don’t already have it. Having long sleeves, long pants, rain gear and a headnet is more important to protect against bugs than bug spray.
Clothing and Gear
Underwear and socks – light wool socks are ideal since they stay warm when wet
Lounging clothes: whatever you like to wear around your cabin, hotel or vacation rental in evenings and mornings (or pajamas).
Hiking pants: I love the Columbia Saturday Trail pants. (Get them here on Amazon or here at REI). They are great for hikes in hot weather and they dry quickly when they get wet. They are really good for plus size women and have sizes up to 24. They are also terrific for bug protection and you can cinch them up to capris if you like.
Leggings: I love these leggings. They don’t slide down, they have awesome pockets and they are fairly warm. These are a good option for hiking or walking around on wet days, and they are also a great option to wear underneath rain pants so they don’t get too clammy. Leggings do not provide much bug protection since they fit tight against your skin (wear the hiking pants instead or layer rain pants over them).
Rain pants: I hate them and don’t wear them often because I get too hot and clammy in them. However I always bring them especially to Southeast Alaska. They are perfect for boat trips or anytime you might be sitting on something wet outside. They also make for excellent bug protection. These REI ones are the best ones I’ve found (also in plus sizes!)
Long sleeve light weight shirt – this comes in really handy for sun protection as well as bug protection. I’m not usually a fan of button up shirts but I often wear them unbuttoned and they’re pretty comfortable that way. My favorite button up sun and bug shirt is this one that you can get here on Amazon (also in plus sizes) and here at REI (also in plus sizes)
T shirt or tank top: It can get hot in Alaska in the summer so I always bring a couple of short sleeved or sleeveless tops. These also work to wear under the long sleeve button up shirt.
Swimsuit – For hot springs, hot tubs and lakes!
Long sleeve base layer: This is a great option to layer under a rain jacket. You can use any long sleeve workout shirt you already have.
Warm layer: I suggest a fleece jacket (like this one at Amazon or REI) or a light puffy jacket any time of year. One that can get wet and still be warm (synthetic not down) is a good idea.
Rain Jacket: You absolutely need an excellent rain jacket. I have two, the REI XeroDry has a plus size option and Marmot Minimalist are the two rain jackets I currently own and both of them feel like new after a couple years of heavy use. I would make the decision based on where you like to shop and what size you are. The REI XeroDry comes in plus sizes and tall men’s sizes, which the Marmot minimalist unfortunately does not.
Sandals: I suggest bringing sandals for warm days with less bugs or for wearing in the water.
Hat: Bring a sun hat that has a brim so you can put a bug net over it. You might consider a warm wool hat or fleece hat especially if you’re camping or going to the arctic
If you plan on hiking, here is my list of what I wear and what I bring on day hikes in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
This video shows what I pack for Alaska in the summer (in a carry on)
What to Pack for Alaska in Winter
Make sure to still bring light layers and short sleeves since buildings are often super hot in Alaska in the winter. Except temperatures to be well below zero (sometimes way below zero) outside.
My personal packing list for Alaska in winter includes all of the items on the summer packing list EXCEPT I leave behind:
Bug Spray and Headnet
Long Sleeve Light weight button up shirt (I just go with short sleeves for inside and warmer layers for outside
Summer Hiking Pants
Additional Items to Pack for Alaska in Winter
Warm wool hat: The one in the summer packing list is great, just make sure you have it.
Jeans: It sounds a little silly but your favorite jeans will serve you well in Alaska in winter. Make sure you have the snow pants to wear if you’re outside for awhile when it’s really cold.
Snow pants: Make sure to have really warm snow pants for Southcentral and Interior Alaska (Anchorage and Fairbanks) in winter. I love these insulated winter pants, but you can totally grab any affordable snow pants you can get your hands on. They don’t need to be anything special. Have long underwear or leggings to wear under them, it’s much more comfortable and warm.
Gloves and Mittens: the type of gloves will vary greatly depending on your preferences. These are the ones I wear most often, they are fairly light allowing you to still use your hands and they have pads so you can use a phone with them on. You’ll also want mittens or mitts to wear over them. When it’s really cold you need mittens but sometimes you have to take the off and you’ll want light gloves underneath. These are fantastic waterproof mittens for layering. If you already have gloves and mittens you love, just bring those!
Buff: Having something to pull up over your nose and mouth is helpful when it’s really cold. It can also function as a scarf or headband. Get it here on Amazon or here at REI
Really warm puffy down or synthetic coat that’s LONG and has a hood. This REI one is affordable, super comfortable and very warm! It’s also super packable into it’s own pocket which is wonderful since winter gear can be so bulky. This Columbia one you can shop for on Amazon is another great option.
Warm Boots: I love these Sorel boots, they are incredibly comfortable and warm and good for walking long distances. They are also waterproof around the rubber bottom, which is nice for coming indoors with wet feet and having snow melt on everything!
A headlamp – especially if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, make sure to bring a head lamp with a red light setting so it won’t wreck your night vision when Aurora chasing
Here’s a video of me packing everything I need for a winter visit in a carry on (if I’m bringing skis then I have to check those)
You don’t really need to bring anything different than what I recommend to pack for Alaska in summer, but I do have a few specific items to consider for cruising Alaska, in addition to the summer packing list:
Many cruise ships offer an opportunity for formal dining, and if you enjoy dressing up bringing a dressy outfit can be fun! This is never required on the ship, so if you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it.
Blanket and/or really warm clothes so you can enjoy time on the outside on the decks. Temperatures in Alaska are cool in summer compared to most of the US, and you don’t want to miss out on awesome views outside by being cold. The decks of the ship are often windy and you’ll usually have lots of solitude outside if you are prepared with warm clothes
Don’t forget that swimsuit, most cruise ships have hot tubs! And, if you’re hardy, you can even enjoy and Alaska pool day and probably have the pool all to yourself
Things to consider when packing for Alaska
How much can you bring?
When planning what to pack for Alaska, the first thing is to think about how much luggage you can bring on your trip. If you’re traveling a lot of different places, taking planes, trains and automobiles, you may need a lighter packing list than someone who is traveling on a cruise ship and bus tour. If you’re going to more than one place on your own, I’d consider bringing what you can pack in a carry on bag. This is easy to carry and reduces the likelihood of losing your bags!
All the items on my packing list for Alaska I can fit into a carry on size bag (except for my big winter coat and snow pants, but you won’t need those unless you go to the interior part of Alaska in winter). I usually pack enough for a few days and plan on doing laundry at some point, which also helps in packing light. Alaska is a casual place, similar to the Pacific Northwest. You don’t need a dressy outfit unless you want one.
Alaska is a place where you can eat in any restaurant in jeans or hiking clothes, so you don’t need to bring a nicer outfit unless you want to (even on a cruise, see below).
If you are doing a tour requiring specialized gear, such as kayaking or glacier trekking, your tour operator will provide specialized gear (such as paddles, life jackets and crampons). When in doubt, check with them. You do not need a whole new gear closet for a guided adventure.
Alaska is a state with very different temperatures winter and summer, and very different within winter and summer in different areas. Do research to understand what to expect for the temperature in the part of the state you’ll be visiting and the time of year. For example, Southeast Alaska is wet and cool, with summer temperatures usually in the 50s and 60s (though it can get much warmer at times). Fairbanks on the other hand is extremely dry, with the exception being August when it does often rain a bit. Fairbanks can be very hot in the summer, but isn’t always hot.
In winter, Southeast Alaska is extremely wet, and while they definitely get snow, they don’t always have it all winter. In Fairbanks and Denali National Park, temperatures way below zero are common from November through February or March. Anchorage is somewhere in between, consistently cold and snowy in the winter but not as cold as the Interior (Fairbanks and Denali). Learn more here about what to expect each month in Alaska.
Another important thing to consider in what to pack is the hours of daylight. In the summer, all of the state has long days, ranging from 18 hours in Ketchikan to the sun not setting at all above the Arctic Circle. Similarly, in the winter months there are far fewer hours of daylight. In March and September, there are about 12 hours of daylight just like everywhere else on earth around the equinox.
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years and I still spend lots of time there every year. I've been a tour guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington and am a field editor for the Milepost. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!
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